September 23, 2009

The Men vs. The Mission

Population-centric counterinsurgency puts soldiers lives at risk. That's the truth.

Members of Congress have voiced concern about the increase in U.S. deaths, one of the factors behind growing public dissatisfaction with the war. President Obama and his national security advisers are considering McChrystal's assessment, which calls for intensifying the counterinsurgency strategy and dispatching additional forces, among other options.

"I am troubled if we are putting our troops at greater risk in order to go to such extremes to avoid Afghan casualties," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who at a hearing last week urged Pentagon leaders to determine whether new rules of engagement -- the classified directives that guide the use of force -- are unnecessarily endangering U.S. troops.

The trolls who sometimes lurk in the comments section of this blog have gone so far as to accuse me of being part of some Hizballah/al-Qaeda/Taliban plot to make U.S. soldiers and Marines more vulnerable on the battlefield. (This is when I'm not being accused of being a bood-thirsty Zionist imperialist, of course.) But they are right that population-centric counterinsurgency strategies raise the short-term risk for soldiers and Marines by exposing them to greater dangers and limiting what kind of munitions with which they can respond to incoming fire. It's a gamble, right? On the one hand, any time you send a soldier to war, you are exposing them to risk in the hopes that military action will help lead to the realization of a political objective. In COIN, meanwhile, you are asking the soldier to expose himself to even more risk up front in the hopes that violence will decline in the longer term. We do ourselves no favors by not being honest about that...